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Lord of the Flies

William Golding, stage adaptation by Nigel Williams
Regent's Park Theatre Ltd
Sheffield Lyceum
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William Golding’s iconic classic was written in 1954, nine years after the end of WW2. While ostensibly this is a story about boys stranded on a Pacific island who revert to savagery when left to their own devices, it also echoes the demise of democracy and rise of totalitarian dictatorships experienced by those who lived through the war.

A plane carrying a large group of public schoolboys crashes onto an uninhabited island killing all the adults on board. The surviving children initially celebrate their emancipation from adult control, then set about finding an acceptable alternative.

For thoughtful Ralph, the rule of law is essential, while Jack is much more excited to make a spear, go native and take on the role of hunter. In no time, the group is divided, with Ralph and his small group of followers occupying an area on the beach, keeping their beacon fire going and building a shelter, while Jack and his group run amok and surrender to the bloodlust of the kill.

There are two isolates in the group: Piggy, a fat boy from a lower class background, who echoes the pedestrian values of his Auntie; and Simon who has epileptic fits and near visionary experiences but also, prophet-like, is unaffected by the growing hysteria and brave enough to confront the beast and assert the truth.

The small society that initially submitted to the rule of law represented by the conch shell rapidly descends into anarchy and the weakest are victimised.

Peter Brook’s atmospheric black and white film of the book was made in 1963 and the stage dramatisation by Nigel Williams which forms the basis of the current production as early as 1992.

While Brook’s film adaptation is chillingly realistic and allows for unforgettable close-ups, like the pig’s head swarming with flies, the current touring stage version started life as an outdoor production in Regent’s Park. Consequently, the emphasis is on action, ritual, choreographed movement and loud volume with only limited opportunities for quiet reflection.

Designer Jon Bauser’s set includes part of the fractured plane’s fusillage, multiple levels and many opportunities for fire lighting, which must have been very effective in the Park setting. The set is rather cramped on the Lyceum stage.

The setting allows director Timothy Sheader to adopt an exciting convention for scene changes when the action moves from one part of the island to another. The set remains unchanged as one scene melds into the next with the action frozen until the new scene is established. Slow-motion sequences and choral speech are also effective.

A strong cast of young performers, hardly boys except for Guy Abrahams, a clear-voiced young ‘un, is headed by Luke Ward-Wilkinson, a convincing and sensitive Ralph, Anthony Roberts a troubled Piggy and Freddie Watkins, hugely energetic as Jack.

Strong supporting performances from Keenan Munn-Francis as Simon and Thiago and Felipe Pigatto as Sam and Eric. To the credit of the whole cast, their physical involvement in the action is impressive and their voices always clearly audible, no doubt as a result of playing out of doors in a large space.

While the adaptation and the production allow little space for inference, which happens when reading the book, plot and motivation are clearly signalled, even at the cost of ambiguity. Perhaps the audience has too much help with the interpretation.

Reviewer: Velda Harris